January 6, 2018
Flashback Book Review: Vicki Iovine’s The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy: or Everything Your Doctor Won’t Tell You. NY: Pocket, 1995.
The Girlfriends’ Guide is the pregnancy book I love to hate. However, other people just plain love it, and it unfortunately remains a best seller. This book is organized by topic, such as “Looking the Best You Can,” and the problematically ablist “Pregnancy Insanity.” The author does not primarily speak to the medical aspects of pregnancy, aside from the chapter “Prenatal Tests,” and even here, she mostly describes what happens and whether it hurts. Unfortunately, she often says why a test might be offered, but mentions none of the possible side effects.
The author’s credentials and accomplishments include a law degree, member of the board of directors for the Special Olympics, and Playboy Magazine’s Miss September 1979. She has no medical background, and her knowledge of pregnancy comes from having borne four children. Iovine’s pregnancy and birth experience is as valid as anyone else’s, and certainly license enough to write a book. “Knowledge” of pregnancy does not belong only to those with official training, and I certainly advocate for the de‑medicalizing of pregnancy. However, I have a few major issues with this book, most of which stem from the fact that Iovine writes as if she were an authority, and her book is presented not a memoir, but a book of guidance.
The most benign aspect of this trend is the way Iovine extends her own experience to all readers. Because she has a husband, she assumes you have one, too. Because she was thrilled at her pregnancy breast growth, she assumes you (and your standard-issue “husband”) will be thrilled as well. In some cases, she says that pregnancy experiences are varied, but too often she states one experience as “the way it is.” Iovine is approaching dangerous territory, excluding readers who do not fit her ideal of pregnancy and invalidating experiences that go contrary to her own.
My second, more serious, issue with this book is that Iovine strongly suggests certain actions of her reader, some of which she has no personal knowledge. For example, although she has never had a midwife or home birth, Iovine offers her “lessons” on the matter:
Save the home births, midwives and underwater deliveries for second, third and fourth babies. There is no way you can make an informed decision about how you want to manage your delivery until you have some realistic idea of what in the world to expect… Never elect to have a child where you have no access to medication or, God forbid, real doctors.
These “lessons,” along with Iovine’s comment that no one refuses medication when offered (p70) serve only to discourage birthing folks from making decisions about their own births. Current birth theory encourages clients to look at all choices and make an informed birth plan, with the understanding that unforeseen events can occur.
Iovine does acknowledge the implications of this comment, but writes them off: “we apologize if you think we are taking too much for granted, but that’s what Girlfriends do… Our job is to give you the inside scoop, based on what we tell each other, and our unanimous vote is that you go for the traditional hospital birth with a godlike medical doctor” (71). Iovine wants to have it both ways: acting as an authority who makes decisions for her reader, while refusing responsibility for educating herself. Iovine accomplishes this by creating the role of “Girlfriend,” and defining the Girlfriend’s responsibilities.
There is also a real problem with Iovine’s use of the terms “real” and “godlike” to describe doctors. Not only are they invalidating of prenatal care providers who are not doctors, but they seriously contribute to the elevation of health and pregnancy to hegemonic level.
This book does have its uses, however. Iovine has a fabulous discussion on pregnancy clothes. Her “Sex and Pregnancy” chapter likewise discusses useful things that other books do not. Here, Iovine is at her best (though still cis- and hetero-normative). She also gets points for reminding new parents (in all caps) that baby car seats face backward. If I were given the power, I would edit this book heavily, removing all mention of anything medical, leaving readers with Iovine’s hilarious rant on whether the crib sheets need to match the curtains.
For the purpose of my work, Iovine is frustrating, but provides me with plenty of examples of gender essentialism in the form of male bashing. She also has other information, such as a list of symptoms of pregnancy, which I may draw upon, with other books, to create a more comprehensive list in my own text. I would have serious reservations about recommending this book to a client.
Perinatal care specialist. Spouse and parent. Vegan; drinks a lot of tea. Birthed our kid and also carried a surrogacy. Board game (and generally) geeky. Goat hugger extraordinaire.
Read more about Jay here.